Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Artifact source debated


By Darrell Neale

LEWES - Treasure hunters who collected artifacts from Lewes Beach over the last month had an opportunity Thursday to have them cataloged by archaeologists from the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
The documentation sessions took place at the Zwaandael Museum on Savannah Road in Lewes.

Pottery shards, broken bottles and crockery have been found on the beach following an offshore dredging and beach replenishment effort by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"These shards are like gold," said John Stewart of Ocean View. "They can tell us so much history."

Mr. Stewart and Bill Winkler, also of Ocean View, went to Lewes about three weeks ago after hearing about the discoveries.

"All these items were on top of the sand, the beach was just loaded," Mr. Stewart said. "Red bricks were everywhere."
Mr. Stewart believes the area of the dredging, off Roosevelt Inlet, could have been the site of a shipwreck, an old settlement that is now underwater or a spot once used for unloading ships.

"It might have been a combination," he said.

An area where ships were unloaded seems likely because of the condition of the bricks that were found.

Mr. Stewart said they did not have mortar on them, so they were probably being used for construction or as ballast on the ship.

"Ships used to use bricks for ballast, then they would dump it overboard when they got to their destination," he said.
Joeann Vickers of Rehoboth Beach said she went to the beach at Lewes the week before Thanksgiving to make her discoveries.

One of the pieces of a bottle appeared to have a crest stamped on the bottom.

"I am glad it is important, I am going to make this a donation to the state," she said.

Charles Fithian, an archaeologist with the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said the items found so far have been from the first half of the 18th century.

"Hopefully, we can tighten that down with additional study," he said. "It is apparent they were engaged in some of the early commerce of the area."

He said the site could be a shipwreck or just an area where there was a lot of harbor usage.

Holding a shard, Mr. Fithian said, "These are all interesting clues to the past. The more information we get, the better."

Peter Bon, president of the Lewes chapter of the Archeological Society of Delaware, said members had walked the beach and a grid was made where items were found.

By determining what area had the most artifacts on the top, he hopes discoveries will continue on deeper into the sand.

"Sure enough, there was an area," Mr. Bon said. "But I am not telling where it is."

Mr. Bon said the local chapter formed only about six months ago and its members were surprised when artifacts were found on the beach.

"It is a privilege to work with the state," he said. "Members who were untrained are learning how to preserve finds."
Mr. Stewart said there was good news and bad news about the find, which is suspected to have been pumped ashore in the dredging and beach replenishment project.

"The integrity of the site has been compromised, everything was mixed together and it is difficult to tell what came from where," he said.

"But it is good they found it or it would have laid on the bottom for another 200 years."

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